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Why & When Does Reincarnation Occur?

Why & When Does Reincarnation Occur?

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Every descent of the soul into this world has a specific Divine purpose. This is the case whether it is the soul’s first descent or a subsequent reincarnation. There are many aspects of gilgul haneshamot—reincarnation of the soul—that are complex and intricate beyond the scope of this response. However, to understand the general purpose for reincarnation, we can look to the three reasons outlined by Rabbi Yeshaya HaLevi Horowitz, as provided by the Kabbalists, in his classic work Shnei Luchot HaBrit (Shaloh).1

1. There are some sins for which the cleansing in the spiritual realm alone does not suffice. Thus souls who have sinned and have not properly repented whilst alive, are sometimes forced to undergo a second round of life in this world as rehabilitation for sins previously committed. For the most part, rehabilitation occurs when the soul is faced with the same challenge to which it succumbed in its previous life, and overcomes it.

(This is also the reason why one should endeavor to do teshuvah (repentance) even if he knows that he has not done anything overtly wicked. After all, he may still have leftovers from a previous lifetime that need fixing. In fact, many have the custom to say, “I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or vexed me . . . in this incarnation or in another incarnation,” before their bedtime prayers every night.)

2. Reincarnation provides an opportunity for souls to perform those commandments that they were unable to do in a previous incarnation. Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as the Arizal) explains that the soul is comprised of 613 channels, which parallel the 248 limbs and 365 blood vessels of the human body.

These 613 channels attain eternal elevation when the soul fulfills all 613 commandments during its earthly descent. Usually a soul does not manage to fulfill all the commandments in one go, and must be repeatedly reincarnated until it has fulfilled them all.2

3. There are some souls who do not descend for their own growth or perfection. Rather, the only reason they return to this earth is to benefit others. This can be to help out an individual or the entire generation, spiritually or materially.

Now that we know why souls generally reincarnate, it should be noted that in theory a soul can reincarnate as many times as needed until it fulfills its mission. Yet this can occur only if it rectifies at least a minute portion of its past while reincarnated. However, a soul that has reincarnated three times without having rectified anything at all is not reincarnated again.3

This would imply that a soul that has reincarnated three times without rectifying its past has no other recourse for further rehabilitation and is forever doomed.4

However, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, explains that only reincarnations into human beings is limited to “three strikes and you are out.” These souls can still continue to be reincarnated, first as kosher animals, and then, in decreasing order, as non-kosher animals, plants, and even eventually as inanimate objects, as long as the need exists.5

Therefore, even those souls who have transgressed sins so great that it is said that even languishing in Gehenna does not help rehabilitate them, have a way to be rehabilitated through reincarnation, and ultimately are reunited with their source.6

FOOTNOTES
1.

Torah Shebichtav, Parshat Ki Teitzei.

2.

See Sefer HaGilgulim, ch. 4; Shaar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 11:16. This excludes commandments that are incumbent only upon a specific individual such as a king, since he discharges the obligation of all of Israel; see Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh, Epistle 29, and the footnotes of the Lubavitcher Rebbe printed in Lessons in Tanya ibid.

3.

See Kitvei HaArizal, Shaar HaPesukim, Parshat Yitro. This is reflected in the verse (Exodus 34:7), “. . . He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation . . .,” meaning that G‑d leads them through up to four incarnations (the original one plus three reincarnations).
Additionally, it is inferred from the fact that the verse (ibid.) states, “. . .preserving lovingkindness for thousands . . .”, that in general, a soul which has rectified part of its past, only reincarnates up to two thousand times. See Shaar HaPesukim loc. cit.

4.

See Shaar HaPesukim loc. cit.

5.

There is, however, an important distinction between souls that reincarnate into human bodies and those that reincarnate into other creatures. When a human soul incarnates into an animal, it does so merely as an observer. That is to say that this creature is like any other creature of its kind, except that a reincarnated soul is trapped inside. The excruciating pain and sorrow the soul experiences while trapped inside the animal, forced to live and observe the life of this creature while powerless to control its behavior, serves to rehabilitate it.
Additionally, while this soul cannot really rehabilitate itself as it has no control over the action of the creature, it can sometimes be rehabilitated through the actions of others, for example, by someone reciting a blessing over it, if it is kosher.

6.

Igrot Kodesh, vol. 1, p. 153.
Often they need the help of other souls in order to rehabilitate themselves. This is the reason why the Baal Shem Tov and the Arizal, respectively, would sometimes travel great distances in order to recite a blessing at a certain location or over a specific dish.

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Discussion (29)
June 24, 2014
Reincarnation revisited
Hi Anonymous person who stated that the concept of reincarnation is "chiefly Christian and thus fundamentally flawed " ......
I'm guessing that you have few if any Christian friends or acquaintances. You are probably missing out on some interesting people who could enrich your life in some way. That's your choice.
I'm also guessing that you did not read the short article on reincarnation before commenting on the subject. The article quotes the Lubavitcher Rebbe's comments on reincarnation. If that ain't Jewish....what is ?
Anonymous
USA
June 22, 2014
The problem with this reincarnation theory, is that it's still chiefly Christian and thus fundamentally flawed
Anonymous
August 9, 2013
oy vay iz mir twice
Oh boy! I'm a girl! Or at least I was one many years ago.
I guess I need to improve my gender skills.
I'll work on it. Thanks for the heads up.
Anonymous
PA
August 6, 2013
Reincarnation
By the anonymous comment in NYC, I guess that this poor man does not want to reincarnate in the body of a woman. Oy vai iz mir! ??? This comment I find it to be so funny. Thank you for making me laugh today. I am definitely working on it. With the hope that G-d will listen in His great Mercy. Certainly, reincarnating in an animal would be even more detrimental. A pig, as for example...Thanks be to G-d that at least I am a woman. Shalom alechem to all those women out there, maybe that is the reason why so many men out there hate us. There were wars, and wars, between men with all kinds of causes, many of them because of women itself. Maybe that is the reason why we suffer so much, because of what we did to women? May G-d have mercy on us all.
Anonymous
USA
August 6, 2013
reincarnation
Oy vay iz mir! Please list those transgressions that need a lot of repentance. And what is the correct procedure by which one correctly repents?
Anonymous
NYC
August 5, 2013
Reincarnation
Referring to women not reincarnating: Does that mean that most women are a reincarnation of a man? Unless they are in the first body? I have had some experience or deja vu in my life. I am a woman. Would that mean that I could have been a man in another life? And is so how could I find out the sins I committed in the past life so that I could rectify them. It would be a good thing to do for the sake of Heaven, and mine. For what I have read so far concerning the soul. It is implied that there is such a thing. I never believed in this concept before. But it would be a good thing to look into Torah, Talmud, and all the sacred books to study this subject of reincarnation. Thank you for the insight.
Anonymous
USA
November 11, 2012
About non-human reincarnation...
Hello. There are a few questions I would like to please ask. In the case of a human that went through three incarnations, was unable to experience improvement, and then experiences non-human incarnations one or more times, is forgiveness, to the extent of human incarnation once again, possible? In the case of inanimate objects, can different souls inhabit the object when it goes through dramatic changes? For example, could one soul incarnate as a tree, and, when that tree is cut down into lumber and used for a building, leave and be replaced by another soul? This is asked due to the sharp changes in form and function the tree experienced (from providing fresh air to providing shelter). Finally, for objects that last for a long time (such as metal or water), is it possible for a soul to incarnate as it for a fixed period of time (such as a decade or a century), leave it after that fixed period of time, and then have another soul take its place for another fixed period of time?
Anonymous
Los Angeles
September 8, 2012
urgent
I would like to know if we really love a person in this life time is it possible that this person can be my husband in next birth
divya
vaCOAS, MAURITIUS
August 17, 2012
To Susan
Under certain circumstances, two souls may reincarnate into one person (see here: www.chabad.org/380828). As a rule, reincarnation occurs according to the wisdom of the Creator. The soul does not choose to be reincarnated or in whom. It is not possible (nor necessary) to know whose soul one possesses, unless informed by a true Kabbalist. It is among the many things in life which we never find out. What is important is to make the right choices in life, as the Torah guides us, and to remember that our actions impact the souls of others, besides our own.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
Chabad.org
August 9, 2012
Can two souls be reincarnated into one person?
My son was born on my ex husband's brother's yahrtzeit on the hebrew calendar as well as on my aunt's birthday in the same hospital she died on according to the gegorian calendar. We had planned to name him after these two people beforehand. Neither of these relatives had children in their lifetimes..The brother in law died at 18 in a israeli helicopter crash and my aunt died at 76 after her bypass...Could two such souls be reborn into one person. I see some of my aunt's traits in my son and he resembles the late uncle on his father's side. My son is now 18 and feels these coincidences can't be for no reason. I take it as these two souls wanted him to be born at that time.
Susan
Maitland, FL
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